The claim: There are just 133 million registered voters in the US
The 2020 election season saw record voter turnout across the country. President-elect Joe Biden now holds the record for the most votes received by a presidential candidate, after getting more than 81 million.
Despite losing dozens of lawsuits and the Electoral College's certification of Biden's win, President Donald Trump's campaign and others continue to promote falsehoods about the credibility and security of the election.
A Dec. 21 Facebook post, which pulled a screenshot of a Twitter post, claimed Biden somehow received 22 million phantom votes. The post has over 1,200 shares, as of Dec. 30.
"Simple math: Trump got 74 million votes and there are only 133 million registered voters in the USA," the tweet claims. "Even if everyone who's registered actually voted, there would only be 59 million votes left for Biden. So how the hell did Biden get 81 million votes? 22 million extra?"
The Facebook user who made that particular post has not returned a request for comment from USA TODAY.
Another Facebook user made the same claim without pulling a screenshot from Twitter. USA TODAY has also reached out to this user for comment.
And the Twitter account MSM Fact Checking posted a similar claim on Dec. 18, from which many viral Facebook posts stem.
In a follow-up tweet, the MSM Fact Checking Twitter account tries to show its math: "Just to clarify there were 213,799,485 registered voters in 2020 of which conflicting sources say turnout was between 60% - 65%. I averaged it out at 62.5% which means just over 133,500,000 registered voters voted. 74,000,000 Trump + 81,000,000 Biden = 155,000,000."
And then, "Just for complete transparency, even at 65% turnout the total would be just over 138,000,000 voters resulting in over 155,000,000 votes. However you look at it, it doesn't add up."
The MSM Fact Checking account has its direct messaging turned off so it could not be reached for comment.
Voter registration and turnout totals
The post is correct in its accounting of Trump's vote totals. He received more than 74 million votes. The vote total for Biden, 81 million, also is correct, putting the overall total at more than 155 million votes cast.
What the tweets get wrong is the number of voters. There are more than 234 million people eligible to vote in the U.S. Not all of those people are registered voters, however.
In its thread of tweets, the account MSM Fact Checking provided conflicting calculations without citing sources. The initial post claimed there were 133 million registered voters. In another tweet, it claimed there were 213 million registered voters with a voter turnout rate of 62.5%. All of these numbers are false.
We know, after weeks of counting, that there were roughly 159 million ballots cast in the presidential election. According to the Election Project, this accounts for 66.7% of the eligible voting population of 239 million Americans..
The U.S. Census Bureau publishes voter registration totals for the nation; its 2020 numbers are not yet available.
But for example, in the 2016 presidential election, there were 157 million registered voters. Of those, 137.5 million voted. And there were 224 million American citizens age 18 or older. All figures are higher than the number in the claim regarding the 2020 election, when voter registration and turnout broke records.
Our ruling: Partly false
The claim in the post is rated PARTLY FALSE. The tweet that appears in viral Facebook posts cites correct vote totals for Trump (74 million) and Biden (81 million). But it falsely reports the number of registered voters. More than 159 million registered voters cast ballots in the general election, out of 239 million eligible voters. So it is completely possible that Trump and Biden would post that many total votes.
Our fact-check sources:
- USA TODAY, Dec. 4, 2020, "'Democracy prevailed': Joe Biden passes 270-vote threshold to win Electoral College"
- USA TODAY, Nov. 10, "Four maps that show how America voted in the 2020 election with results by county, number of voters"
- USA TODAY, Dec. 18, "2020 Presidential Election Results & Electoral Map"
- The Washington Post, Dec. 18, "2020 turnout is the
highest in over a century"
- United States Election Project, Dec. 7, "2020 November General Election Turnout Rates'
- U.S. Census Bureau, May 2017, "Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2016"
- Arizona Secretary of State, "Voter Registration Counts"
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